After a wildly exciting offseason, the highly touted Toronto Blue Jays are off to a slow start in Dunedin. There’s a laundry list of issues bubbling up for the newly formed superstars of the AL East. New ace R.A. Dickey got slapped around in two innings of work, giving up four hits and two earned runs. Utility fielder Mike McCoy and Ryan Langerhans had a scary-looking collision in right center (it looks pretty rough, but McCoy is back now). Melky Cabrera continues to be targeted with PED headlines, and the Jays lost to the Astros 10-1. Yes, the Astros. That’s the same game where Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion went hitless.
It’s not unusual for Toronto, the city of perpetual sports disappointment, to be leery after a slow start in Florida. The Toronto Maple Leafs are renowned for playing their hearts out for three months before letting the wheels fall off at crunch time. Many young hockey fans’ hearts have broken over their beloved Leafs at playoff time. Every season, Toronto plans the celebration parade, and every season those plans get shelved when the team stops winning (mind you, as an Ottawa Senators fan, I’m not too broken up about this). The NBA’s Toronto Raptors haven’t done anything noteworthy since Chris Bosh went to Miami to be with his pals LeBron and D-Wade. And Toronto FC (the Torontonian contribution to MLS soccer) finished at the bottom of the league last year with a 5-21-8 record; I haven’t seen a record that bad since Billy Bob Thornton took over for as head coach of the Bad News Bears.
So, it should be no surprise that Toronto Blue Jays fans, as excited and optimistic as they are, are looking for an excuse to hop off the bandwagon. Toronto trains its fans to do it. It’s a natural defense mechanism we’ve developed to hold our broken hearts together.
Well, I’m here to tell my Toronto Blue Jays brethren, worry not! This is spring training, where the games are half-hearted and the stats don’t matter.
Let’s go through some recent spring training stat sheets and see what the records really mean. Last year’s World Series winner, San Francisco, went 18-15 in the Cactus League before turning on the jets in the regular season, and in 2011, the world champion St. Louis Cardinals went 14-16 in the Grapefruit League. What I’m saying is that spring training games serve as an excuse to watch baseball in February and are the reason why so many of us flock south in the winter. True stats junkies will call me out because the World Series champs in 2009 and 2010 (Yankees and Giants) cruised to spring campaign success. But I’d like to point out that the 2010 Rangers, who lost to the Giants in the championship, finished dead last in the Cactus League that year. Similar to the 2009 Phillies, who were 13-19 in the Grapefruit League the year they lost to the Yankees.
This is just the first of many identity crises we Toronto Blue Jays fans will go through this season. At some point, Dickey will get rocked in the SkyDome, and we’ll all question whether or not it’s a good idea to have a knuckleballer pitch indoors. At some point this season, Bautista will have a seven-game home run dry spell, and we’ll all question whether or not the magic is finally gone from his bat. At some point this season, Brett Lawrie will throw a helmet, and we’ll all question whether or not such a hot-headed player is good for the team.
After becoming the super Marlins this winter, we all expected the Jays would come out gunning and run down everyone else to waltz into the playoffs. It would have been nice to see the Jays come out of the gate and just crush everyone (or at the very least not get blown out by Houston), but that’s not the case. So, let’s look at the positives: The home opener sold out so quickly that people are still wandering dejected in the streets, the Toronto Blue Jays are still odds-on favorites to win the World Series, and John Farrell is coming back to Toronto with the Red Sox the first week of April, so there should be some good booing opportunities there.
Sure, things aren’t going well in the first week of spring training, but who cares? We’ve still got plenty to look forward to. It’s going to be a long season and there’s going to be some bumps in the road. For now, we can all take a deep breath, calm down and put our trust in the Toronto Blue Jays.